Osaka, I’m Home 大阪よ、ただいま

I am having a great time in Osaka.

I have loved living in Tokyo since coming back to Japan in September, but Osaka feels like home. The minute I arrived I felt like saying, “I’m home (tadaima)!”

Over the last couple days I have heard some good rakugo, visited the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, spent time in various used book stores, and have enjoyed some of the great food Osaka is famous for.

Today I may go to listen to rakugo at Dôrakutei. I also would like to visit the Wahha Kamigata Museum.

Okay, see you in town!







Off to Tokyo Next Month 来月は東京へ

Next month I am “going home,” to Japan.

This time I will be living in Tokyo, not Osaka. Some friends are asking me, why do you need to go to Tokyo when you’re studying Kamigata rakugo. They may be partly right, but I’ve never lived in Tokyo before, and also feel that I should get to know Tokyo rakugo a little better in order to understand the “true essence” of Kamigata rakugo.

Of course I’m planning to visit Osaka while living in Tokyo. After all, that’s where Somemaru is, and I will also need to do some more work at Osaka yose and museums.

But, it’s not like I can’t hear Kamigata rakugo in Tokyo. There are a number of Kamigata artists who perform there quite regularly. It will be interesting to see how they perform in Tokyo, whether they perform differently there than they do in Osaka.

I heard there are almost no convenience stores in the neighborhood I am going to be living in, but I also heard it’s a great area.

To the University of Tokyo: 1-minute walk

To the Suzumoto Engeijô (yose): .74mi (1.2km)

To the Shitamachi Museum: .74mi

To the Oedo Ueno Hirokojitei (yose): .86mi (1.4km)

To Kanda-Jinbochô (used bookstores, Rakugo Cafe, etc.): 1.7mi (2.8km)

To the Asakusa Engei Hall (yose): 2.1mi (3.5km)

To the Oedo Nihonbashitei (yose): 2.3mi (3.7km)

To the Asakusa Mokubatei (yose): 2.3mi

To the Edo Tokyo Museum: 2.8mi (4.5km)

To the Tsubouchi Shôyô Memorial Theater Museum (Waseda University): 3mi (4.9km)

To the National Engeijô (yose): 3.3mi (5.3km)

To the Ikebukuro Engeijô (yose): 3.8mi (6.1km)

To the Edo Fukagawa Museum: 3.8mi

To the Shinjuku Suehirotei (yose): 4.3mi (7km)

To the Tenman Tenjin Hanjôtei (yose in Osaka): 307.5mi (495km)

With the exception of the Hanjôtei, all of these places are of bike-able distance from my place. I can’t wait!

I’m sure there are plenty of other worthwhile yose, museums, libraries, etc., but I still know next to nothing about Tokyo.

I would love to hear from anybody that has an interesting place to recommend. Please leave a comment below!
























Long Valentine’s Weekend ロング・バレンタイン・ウィーケンド

I have been off the radar since last Friday, and I am finally back for a brief update on what turned out to be a memorable, rakugo-filled, long Valentine’s weekend.


Today I went to the afternoon show at the Hanjôtei as I wanted to hear Katsura Fukudanji perform. The lineup was fabulous. Fukudanji’s Kushami kôshaku was an absolute masterpiece, and Hayashiya Somesuke, Shôfukutei Sankyô, and Tokyo rakugoka San’yûtei Utamusashi also gave memorable performances. Two very big names appeared in the iromono slots today: Let’s-Go Shôji did mandan (lit. a comical chat/monologue), and Kimiya Tamago (daughter of the late manzai great Kimi Koishi) performed Onna dôraku, also presenting a rare, almost forgotten form of ongyoku manzai, in which comical narrative is chanted while keeping beat with two miniature mokugyo (lit. wooden fish, a hollow, wooden percussion instrument, a larger version of which is used  by monks during sutra chanting).

After the show I caught Katsura Fukudanji to ask him to sign a copy of his book. Master Fukudanji is Katsura Harudanji III’s #1 deshi, is head of the Kansai Entertainment Guild, and also regularly performs and teaches sign-language rakugo (shuwa rakugo). In addition to his many formal rakugo pupils, he is also head of a large family of sign-language rakugo artists.


Today I went to the Dôrakutei to see Hayashiya Someya perform. He did a fine job with the story Shaku no aigusuri, which, in my opinion, is also one of Somemaru’s best. I also enjoyed very much performances by Katsura Harusame and Shôfukutei Shikaku. As I’ve written previously, I enjoy listening to rakugo at Dôrakutei because it is a much smaller venue, and the distance between hanashika and the audience is therefore lessened. You can really see hanashika at work. You can see every detail of the story, and every drop of sweat.

Typically it is audience members–well to do patrons–who take hanashika out after shows, but after the show today Someya was very kind to take me out for sushi. I felt bad about him paying for such a luxurious meal, which included several drinks, but he insisted, saying I should think of him as my “older-brother” in the Somemaru ichimon. He also said he was concerned that I was spending too much money on rakugo books and not on nutritious food. It was a wonderful treat, indeed!


Someya mentioned at dinner last night that he would be making a guest appearance at Katsura Bunza’s dokuenkai (“one-man show,” for lack of better translation) this evening. I wanted to see Someya perform again, and surely wanted to see my longtime friend Bunza in action, so, off to the Hanjôtei I went, again (Thank you Monbukagakushô).

Needless to say, the show was great. Tonight Someya performed one of his original (sôsaku) pieces, Mitsugu onna, a funny piece inspired by cheesy Japanese soap operas he remembers from his youth. The story is well arranged, and the audience loved it . I tend to prefer older stories, but tonight’s sôsaku was a good one.

I have always respected Bunza as a person, and have long enjoyed his rakugo, but tonight I was convinced that he is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest hanashika in Kamigata rakugo. During the makura of his second story, he spent a good deal of time speaking about the special relationship Katsura Bunshi and Somemaru shared. I appreciated this especially, since these are the two hanashika I have called Shishô. After the makura, Bunza’s rendition of Kushami kôshaku had the audience in stitches. In all honesty, I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard at rakugo as I did tonight. I laughed so hard that I cried, and cried so hard that it hurt.


Last week Somemaru asked half-jokingly, “Matt, are you going to bring me chocolates too?” Without any hesitation, I answered, “Of course.” Well, this evening, I was in the neighborhood, and, remembering it was Valentine’s Day, a promise is a promise. I picked up something sweet and dropped by Somemaru’s house after dinner. He was busy working on something, but he appreciated me remembering just the same. We enjoyed a cup of tea and I was on my way.

Yes, it was a wonderful long Valentine’s weekend.















Karuwaza Dôrakutei 軽業動楽亭

I read on Somemaru’s blog yesterday that he will be performing for the next few days at the Dôrakutei, a small yose run by Katsura Zakoba. This is apparently Somemaru’s first time performing at this venue, and, since it was the first time I had heard of it, I decided to go for today’s show.

First, a little bit about the yose.

I heard today that it has been in operation for the past few years. If that is the case, this is one Kamigata rakugo’s best kept secrets. It may be because this is a “home-ground” of sorts for hanashika contracting with Beichô jimusho (i.e., members of the Katsura Beichô artistic school). I have hanashika friends in the Beichô ichimon, but I never heard about Dôrakutei. (No foreigners allowed perhaps?)

Dôrakutei is in the heart of Osaka shitamachi (traditional working-class neighborhood), just a short walk from Shinsekai, through Jan-jan Yokochô, and under the train tracks. Or, steps from Dôbutsuen-mae Station (subway, exit 1).

Dôrakutei is on the second floor of a rather new condominium complex (manshon). The yose was obviously originally a condo unit, but professionally remodeled to be a yose. It is surprisingly nice, and I suppose this speaks to the taste of Zakoba. It looks like it could fit an audience of 100 or so, perfect for rakugo. There is Katsura Beichô and Beichô ichimon memorabilia throughout the yose, including on stage behind the kôza, where a framed sheet of paper with Beichô’s writing — the word raku (ease, relax, enjoy) written several times — hangs. I think this may be the sheet on which Beichô practiced for the real product, which went to the Hanjôtei stage.

Dôrakutei is a great yose because it is small, and comfortable. It was a great to be in such an itimate space with talented performers today.

By the way, today’s lineup was Taizô, Jakugorô, Asakichi, <Naka iri> Koharudanji, and Somemaru.

Somemaru did a story that I have never heard him do before, Karuwaza kôshaku. This made me remember that Katsura Bunshi V performed this story once or twice when I was with him — but I could hardly comprehend it at the time. Today I understood it much better. I could see just how complex a story it is, and how much energy is needed on the part of the hanashika, no matter who s/he is.

Karuwaza kôshaku, a story about a pompous kôshaku storyteller blowing up in anger after repeatedly being muted (he can’t hear his own voice) by loud, neighboring show booths (misemono goya). The climax toward the end of the story and think-for-yourself punch line (kangae ochi) are wonderful. This story has been categorized as perhaps the busiest and noisiest of all stories in both Kamigata and Tokyo repertoires.

Today after Somemaru’s appearance, everybody in the audience looked thrilled with his big story. Afterward, I went to the dressing room to greet Somemaru, and he said, half-jokingly, the most stylish thing: “Well, I heard you were coming today, so I thought I would do a rare story for you.” Now that’s Somemaru for you. (Wow.)

Dôrakutei event info (external link in Japanese)







今日の出演者ですが、鯛蔵さん、雀五郎さん、あさ吉さん、枝女太師匠、<中入> 小春團治師匠、染丸師匠でした。





Let’s-go Shôji レッツゴー正児 師匠

Today I attended the “Open Lecture,” hosted by the Japanese Society for Humor and Laughter Studies (Nihon warai gakkai). The speaker was “Let’s Go Shôji” of the manzai trio “Let’s Go Sanbiki.”

“Let’s Go Shôji” treated the crowd to a wonderful 90-minute talk, entitled “My Life as an Entertainer” (Waga geinin jinsei). He made us laugh and cry numerous times. Truly, he is a talented speaker, probably a good thing for one whose profession is manzai.

He has had an amazing life filled with many ups and downs. But his story is truly one of success. He is a positive thinker, a hard worker, and incredibly resilient.

One case in point was when he tripped and fell hard on his way up to the stage after being introduced. Some thought it was a joke and laughed. He immediately made it into a joke himself, saying, “Now I couldn’t let the emcee be funnier than me, right? …” Still, upon learning he has bad knees after a major surgery, one has to wonder. A regular man in his 70s probably would have had to be taken to a hospital after a fall like that… In any case, this served as a metaphor for his life; he’s not the kind of person to let a fall keep him down.

In his talk he mentioned meeting Katsura Bunshi V on several occasions in yose dressing rooms. On my way out, I approached “Let’s Go Shôji,” thanked him for a wonderful talk, and told him I studied  for some time with Bunshi. It’s a small world, we both agreed. We talked for a few more minutes and I was on my way.

A very interesting man to say the least. I hope to hear him speak again in the near future.

If you are interested in hearing some great “Let’s Go Sanbiki” material, I recommend the following: “Let’s Go Sanbiki” on YouTube. (in Japanese)